Inclusive travel: How to personalize events for better attendee experiences

By: Erica Lalk

What you need to know

  • Fostering a sense of belonging is becoming one of the most important components of incentive travel trips and experiential events. 
  • Personalization and inclusion look different and are more expansive than they once were.
  • Start small: Thoughtful touches can go a long way in building connection.  

Planning an experiential event isn’t just about whisking away attendees to a dream destination. Instead, it’s about tapping into the brain-changing magic of exploring a new place, meeting new people and having new experiences that all attendees can enjoy.

It’s knowing an attendee gets queasy when flying and having crackers and ginger ale waiting when they land. Or understanding when a traveler wants to experience local culture and less structure, and giving them the freedom to do so. 

More than anything, your attendees want to feel like they belong and you get them. 

By prioritizing personalization practices, you create a more inclusive environment for attendees of all abilities or experiences. Make sure the event has something that caters to everyone so it’s worthwhile and memorable for each person.

woman traveling alone

Why event personalization matters

Planning inclusive travel no longer means simply ensuring activities are accessible. It’s vital to be conscious of attendees who may be at a higher risk for discrimination or require additional considerations. In its simplest form, personalization is about making people feel like they belong, no matter where they go or what they’re doing. 

Race, sexual orientation or gender identity can all contribute to barriers and concerns for individuals. Similarly, aging demographics who were once avid travelers may now have new challenges. It’s also important to think outside of traditional identities when considering how someone’s experience at an event may be impacted. 

Event professionals need to consider the ways a person’s identities and abilities may impact their travel experience. 

  • Women: According to a World Travel Protection survey, 71% of women polled view traveling for work as a woman as less safe than traveling as a man.
  • People of color: Black and brown travelers face more discrimination and bias-related challenges during travel than their white counterparts. This can influence how they prefer to travel. For instance, a MMGY Global study shows 71% of Black travelers surveyed felt safety was extremely or very influential when deciding where to travel.
  • LGBTQ+ travelers: According to SAP Concur Global Business Travel, most global LGBTQ+ business travelers surveyed (90%) have hidden their sexual identity on a trip with the top reasons being safety and personal privacy. 
  • People with disabilities: According to the MMGY Global report, Portrait of Travelers with Disabilities™: Mobility and Accessibility, nearly all travelers surveyed (96%) say they have faced an accommodation problem while traveling.
  • Neurodivergent people: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that an estimated 15–20% of people have some form of neurodivergence, which includes autism, ADHD, dyslexia and more. Issues related to travel for neurodivergent people can include hypersensitivity to sights, sounds, and smells, and anxiety about interacting with people.

Related: Unsure where to start with location selection? Learn the dos and don’ts of selecting incentive travel destinations.

signs with gender pronouns

How to create personalized experiential events

As employees expect organizations to walk the DEIB (diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging) talk, attendees want to see brands and travel partners stand for something.

As travel industry leaders, we have a responsibility to start these conversations. We can provide guidance when it comes to planning and executing inclusive travel and experiential events. Create access to travel experiences that reduce friction instead of starting or contributing to it. These small gestures add up and contribute to a deeper, authentic sense of belonging.

1. Ensure attendee information is accurate 

To accommodate your attendees, ensure your records reflect their experience, abilities and preferences.

Collect information during event registration or through pre-event surveys. The insights will help you accommodate personalized needs, enhance the experience and create a sense of belonging. There are endless ways to prepare for an experiential event, but you don’t have to tackle them all at once.  

For example, a dropdown menu lets attendees select gender or pronouns to ensure others address each person correctly. Asking an attendee’s go-to beverage, relationship to their guest or favorite song for a curated event playlist are small touches that make a big difference when it comes to helping individuals feel cared for and included.

2. Prepare to pivot due to event safety concerns

Connect with your stakeholders and be receptive to their safety concerns. Make it a priority to equip attendees with the resources and information they need to feel safe and secure. Individuals who feel welcomed and cared for remember the extra effort put in to ensure they have a positive experience. 

Like with any event, it’s vital to prepare for circumstances outside your control. Understanding issues are more likely to arise when planning inclusive travel is the first step in resolving them when they do. 

Related: Read how we’ve helped one client with creative problem solving and a solid partnership to elevate incentive travel programs.

Download our white paper on how to use data to personalize incentive trip experiences
travel attendee communicating with interpreter during activity

How to design accessible experiential events

Go beyond compliance and strive for inclusion when designing travel experiences. Digging deeper into what access and inclusion truly mean sets the stage for attendees to feel cared for and valued. 

1. Choose destinations and accommodations that share your values

When possible, make a conscious decision to support organizations and tour operators that support and reflect your group's demographics. Focus on working with vendors who welcome travelers of all types. Organizations like Black Cultural Heritage Tours in the U.S. are excellent resources when it comes to planning culturally informed travel. 

Some organizations only travel to locations with shared values. While other organizations take the opposite approach. They believe that silence or avoidance isn't the answer. They drive change by showing up and respecting the culture of a place while sharing their values. 

Similarly, when selecting activities or providing excursion options, consider attendee limitations and preferences. If many activities are adventurous and physically demanding, what are slower-paced alternatives? Or, for those who love the outdoors, what are ways to adapt excursions to be accessible for everyone?

Related: Stay in the know of the top incentive travel destinations in 2024. 

2. Propose flexible activity and event arrangements 

Use pre-trip communications to let attendees know you made any adjustments they need. When planning incentive travel, it’s second nature to just care for their experience. Give them that feeling of “They get me.”

  • Translation services: With global attendees, ensure everyone understands what’s going on. Now, AI makes translation services more affordable to leverage at events than ever.
  • Interpretation or digital communications: Be cognizant of attendees who have hearing or vision impairments by incorporating sign language interpretation or digital text readers into your event design. 
  • Sensory activations: Rethink any sensory or stimulating activations that may impact someone's experience. 
  • Introverts: Recognize introverted attendees by creating quiet spaces or alternative options to engage.
  • Non-alcohol drinkers: Provide thoughtful alternatives for individuals who abstain from drinking alcohol.
  • Wellness breaks: Consider how you might put a wellness spin on an event now that healthy living has started to extend to event design. Incorporate fresh fruits and vegetables into culinary offerings. Add wellness-inspired amenities like lavender oil room spray. Deliver inspirational nightly pillow cards.  

Ready to take your experiential events to the next level? Discover how to use data to create a personalized incentive travel experience

download our white paper on how to use data to personalize the incentive trip experience
Erica White
Erica Lalk

Erica’s passion for events and incentive travel can be felt immediately upon speaking with her. With 15+ years' experience planning and operating global travel and incentive experiences, she’s been well prepared for her role as Event Design Leader. From day one of working with clients, Erica prioritizes building strong, trustworthy relationships while offering original ideas that elevate the attendee experience. When she’s off the clock, you can find her laughing with her family or chatting with her Husky, Naya. And if you have a Peloton, send her your username, so you can become best friends.